‘If the grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit’ – Remembering Oscar Romero

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of the Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador.  He was murdered by government agents while presiding over mass on the 24th March 1980. He was shot dead at the altar in the chapel of the hospital in which he lived.

Romero had used his position to speak up about the social injustices committed by the the powerful against the poor. He was denounced by the government and their allies as a political agitator and a communist and received constant death threats. But this never dissuaded him from preaching against the social injustices that plagued his nation.

Denouncing sin

When I read his sermons, I am struck by how much he speaks about sin. His main concern was to be faithful to the gospel of Christ and he was willing to be critical of all forms of sin. He spoke against both the passivity and laziness which afflicted the poor, as well as the terrible corruption, violence, torture and rank injustice that oppressed them.

‘Preaching that does not denounce sin is not preaching the gospel…Preaching that awakens, preaching that illuminates, like when a light comes on and people are asleep, naturally it will bother them, but it has awakened them. This is the preaching of Christ: be awaken, be converted. Naturally, brothers and sisters, this kind of preaching will generate conflict, it will lose a false prestige, it will bother people, it will be persecuted. It can’t be in harmony with the power of shadows and sin.’ (Sermon in January 22nd 1978)

‘The risks of life that history demands of us’

At the mass in which he died, the gospel reading had been from John 12:23-26:

“The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified…unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit…”

In the short homily that would be his final sermon, Romero said:

‘You have just heard in the gospel of Christ that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives. But whoever out of love for Christ gives himself to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies…only in undoing itself does it produce the harvest.’

Seconds after finishing his sermon, a single shot rang out, fired from the back of the chapel which hit Romero in the chest. He was rushed to hospital but died in the emergency room shortly afterwards.

‘An abundant harvest’

The year before, he had said prophetically:

‘Christ is saying to each one of us: if you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I have: be converted into grain that is buried. Let yourself be killed; don’t be afraid. The one who avoid suffering will end up alone. There is no one more alone than selfish people. But if, out of love for others, you give your life for others, like I am going to give mine, you will have an abundant harvest; you will experience the deepest satisfaction.’ (Sermon, April 1st, 1979)

This short video gives an illustrated summary of Romero’s life:

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